Female auds help actioner best Sony's 'Eat Pray Love'

Femme auds powered the weekend’s domestic box office, expanding Lionsgate’s “The Expendables” beyond its expected core male demo to help claim a chart-topping estimated $35 million at 3,270 locations.

The frame’s No. 2 title, Sony’s Julia Roberts starrer “Eat Pray Love,” also drew an overwhelming response from women as anticipated, debuting with an estimated $23.7 million at 3,082 engagements.

“Expendables” scored a considerable 39% of its aud from women, of which 26% were over 25, while a whopping 72% of moviegoers for “Eat Pray Love” were female.

Meanwhile, Universal’s fanboy pic “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” struggled to gain traction among its core demo, making a modest debut of an estimated $10.5 million. Pic played best to auds aged under 18, accounting for 33% of the total, while moviegoers between the ages of 18 and 24 made up 29%.

Overseas, Disney/Pixar’s 3D toon “Toy Story 3″ continued to play tops in several holdover territories, posting an estimated $22.7 million for a boffo international cume of $539.3 million.Toon’s worldwide haul stands at $940.1 million, making it the all-time highest-grossing toon globally, beating “Shrek 2″ with $919.8 million worldwide.

“Toy 3″ also crossed the $400 million domestic benchmark this weekend — only the second Disney title to do so — behind “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” with $423.6 million domestically.

Leading up to this weekend’s demo derby, most B.O. pundits expected “Expendables” and “Eat Pray Love” to serve a relatively even split between men and women, respectively. While “Expendables” attracted a mostly male aud (61%), the film’s notable adult femme contingency — which equaled male auds aged 25 and under — likely tapped into a portion of “Eat Pray Love’s” core demo. “Eat Pray Love” played best (56%) with those over 35.

Still, “Eat Pray Love,” based on the worldwide bestselling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, topped Sony’s similarly femme-driven lit adaptation “Julie and Julia,” which opened last year to $20 million.

“I figured if we could at least open to ‘Julie,’ that would be a great start for us,” said Sony prexy of worldwide distribution Rory Bruer. “And having Julia Roberts working on the same film as (director) Ryan Murphy turned out to be a really good thing.”

“Julie,” which also toplined a major female B.O. draw (Meryl Streep), launched Aug. 7, 2009, alongside Paramount’s male-targeted tentpole “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” “Cobra” claimed the No. 1 spot during its opening frame with $54.7 million. “Julie” went on to cume $94.1 million Stateside while totals for “G.I. Joe” stand at $150.2 million.

While “Expendables” fell short of “G.I. Joe’s” opening tally, Lionsgate distrib topper David Spitz said positive reactions among female moviegoers could help the film’s overall perf. “We knew that if we could get them in the seats, women were going to enjoy this film,” he said.

Spitz attributed the film’s success among femmes in part to its macho dream-team cast, led by helmer/co-scribe Sylvester Stallone, with Dolph Lundgren, Steve Austin, Jet Li, Eric Roberts, Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis and Jason Statham. “I can tell you from my wife, chicks dig Statham,” Spitz added.

“Expendables” registered a B-plus CinemaScore rating among women, with a slightly higher rating from its core male demo. Meanwhile, “Eat Pray Love” earned more mixed responses between the genders and an overall B rating.

Sony said it expects the film’s international perf to double domestic figures, kicking off in Italy and Japan on Sept. 17, with remaining overseas territories set to follow in late September and early October.

In addition to Roberts tubthumping the pic overseas, Sony boosted domestic appeal by mounting an aggressive marketing push, including media promotions, social networking sites and retail licensing deals. The studio inked partnerships with several travel and femme-related brands, such as HSN, Cost Plus World Markets, Borders and Lonely Planet.

Hoping to benefit from a strategic counterprogramming bid against “Eat Pray Love” and “Expendables,” Universal slotted its Comic-Con fanboy-favorite “Scott Pilgrim” at 2,818 locations.

Directed by Edgar Wright (“Hot Fuzz,” “Shaun of the Dead”) and based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O’Malley, “Scott Pilgrim” tells the story of a young man forced to fight his new girlfriend’s seven evil exes. Universal prexy of domestic distribution Nikki Rocco described the pic as “genre-bending,” looking to appeal to fanboys by using anime and comicbook-esque graphics.

“We’ve always been aware of the challenges in launching a unique title like this,” Rocco said. “But with all the positive responses from Comic-Con, we just wish more fans would have showed up and hope they continue to make an effort.”

“Scott Pilgrim” was first mentioned at Comic-Con in 2006, but it wasn’t until this year’s confab that fans got a taste of the film, with U hosting a free screening.

Still, “Scott Pilgrim” isn’t the first release this year that failed to translate Comic-Con buzz into mega coin at the multiplexes.

Lionsgate’s comicbook acquisition “Kick-Ass” received wide praise at the fanboy confab when it screened in 2009, but opened to a modest $19.8 million domestically. With an estimated price tag of $15 million, however, Lionsgate still managed to turn a profit, with a worldwide haul near $95 million.

“Scott Pilgrim,” with an estimated $60 million budget after location rebates, may face a steeper incline in holdover frames, especially given the pic’s limited overseas perf. U launched the pic day-and-date this weekend in only two markets — Australia and New Zealand — but tallied just $1 million on 217 screens. Pic will look to gain steam when it expands to Russia next weekend, followed by the U.K. on Aug. 27.

Among the frame’s top domestic holdovers, Sony’s buddy comedy “The Other Guys” fared best, landing in the No. 3 spot with an estimated $18 million, dropping 49% in its second outing. Domestic totals for “The Other Guys” reached $70.5 million.

Warner Bros.’ boffo holdover “Inception” followed with an estimated $11.4 million, down just 39% in its fifth frame, for a cume of $248.6 million. “Inception” continued to hold steady at the foreign B.O., with a chart-topping $34.6 million from 59 markets on 7,300 screens. Pic’s international cume stands at a stellar $314 million.

Domestically, U’s 3D toon “Despicable Me” held best among the frame’s top 10, slipping a mere 27% in its sixth weekend after losing nearly 500 playdates. Toon took in an additional $6.8 million, lifting its Stateside cume to an outstanding $222 million.

In limited release, Focus Features scaled back its rollout of “The Kids Are All Right” to 830 locations from 994 last weekend. “Kids” added an estimated $1.4 million, down 48%, for a cume of $16.7 million.

Sony Pictures Classics launched its Australian drama “Animal Kingdom” at four locations in New York and L.A., posting an estimated $52,500 for a solid per-screen average of $13,125. Meanwhile, Disney’s release of a Studio Ghibli toon “Tales From Earthsea” debuted with an estimated $20,100 at five U.S. locations, averaging $4,020 per screen.

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